HAMMOND – Senior James Hulbin took a pass from a driving DeQuan Hicks and drained a decisive 3-pointer with 15.7 seconds to go, then redshirt freshman Jalan West sank two free throws with 1.1 remaining as Northwestern State edged Southeastern Louisiana 79-76 Thursday night in Southland Conference basketball.
The Demons (17-6 overall, 11-2 in the Southland) won their seventh straight, their best string since 2006, and prevailed in Hammond for the first time in five tries. NSU overcame a tremendous challenge from SLU (9-13, 7-5), which rallied from 19 down with 18:10 to go and claimed three late one-possession leads.
The Lions moved on top for the first time with 2:16 remaining but Northwestern recovered to tie the game three times on free throws by Gary Stewart, Brison White and Shamir Davis. West stole the inbounds pass after Davis' two points with 58.7 remaining and drew a foul going to the basket. West sank both free throws to make it 74-72 NSU.
SLU's Brandon Fortenberry, who scored a game-high 20 including 16 in the second half, tied the game at 74 with 45 seconds left on a pair of free throws.
The Demons moved downcourt and Hicks drove the lane with the shot clock winding down, kicking out to Hulbin on the left wing for the clutch 3-pointer. SLU got a driving layup with 2.2 seconds remaining by Fortenberry, but after a timeout, Hicks inbounded to West who was fouled with 1.1 on the clock.
West calmly dropped in both free throws and after a timeout, the Demons knocked away a three-quarter-court length Lions' inbounds pass to seal the outcome.
Hulbin scored 16 and Davis, who sank 9 of 10 free throws including 5 of 6 in the last 5:38, added 15. The Demons overcame 35 percent aim from the floor after halftime as the Lions sank 62 percent in their impressive second-half rally.
"James stepped out and knocked the big shot down off a nice pass from DeQuan. Those are guys we like with the ball late in tight games," said Demons' coach Mike McConathy, who saw the same combination click with 13.6 to go for the go-ahead 3-pointer in NSU's 61-57 win over league-leading Stephen F. Austin last month.
"Coming into the game, we told the kids that you've put yourselves in a nice position, don't let it slip through your hands," said McConathy. "We showed some guts and toughness facing down adversity in the closing minutes. We have been there before in close games, gotten the job done, and that served us well tonight."
McConathy had extra praise for West, who twisted an ankle late in the first half and played only eight minutes in the second period.
"The biggest play of the game may not have been James' 3-pointer, or those free throws Jalan made at the end. He makes a steal on the inbounds and gets us back on top late, and we weren't playing from behind any longer. That was a huge lift," said McConathy.
Southeastern fell while finishing at 49 percent on its shooting aim overall and 70 percent at the free throw line. The Demons made 13 of their last 15 free throws to stave off the Lions' upset bid.
Northwestern heads south to Thibodaux for a 4 p.m. game against Nicholls Saturday, the second away from home in a string of five on the road before the Demons get back home March 7.